Taliban welcome reduction of US military presence in Afghanistan

On Wednesday, the Taliban welcomed the announcement by the United States of reducing the number of their soldiers in Afghanistan, speaking of โ€œgood measureโ€ that could help end the long conflict in Afghanistan.

By declaring Tuesday, nearly 20 years after the attacks of 11 September 2001 by the Taliban al-Qaeda jihadist group, then based in Afghanistan, that about 2,000 soldiers will withdraw from it on 15 January, Donald Trump, who will give power to President-elect Joe Biden five days later, thus fulfilled his promise to put an end to the โ€œendless warsโ€.

Some 500 other soldiers will also have left Iraq to leave only 2,500 soldiers in each of these countries, announced Tuesday the new acting US Defence Minister Christopher Miller.

โ€œThis is a good measure and it is in the interest of the peoplesโ€ Afghan and American, said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban on Wednesday. โ€œThe sooner foreign troops leave, the sooner the war will end,โ€ he insisted.

Afghan National Security Council spokesman Rahmatullah Andar put the impact of the withdrawal into perspective: โ€œAfghan security and defence forces already carry out 96% of operations independently and are ready to continue to defend the country against our enemies.โ€

Worried Allies

Christopher Miller‘s predecessor, Mark Esper, who was dismissed last week, argued for the status quo, like other military officials opposed to withdrawal, as long as the violence did not diminish.

Nearly 7,000 US military personnel have died and more than 52,000 have been injured since the outbreak of military offensives in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq two years later, according to the Pentagon.

But Washington’s announcement raises fear, both in the United States and around the world, of a resurgence of extremist groups.

And if the self-proclaimed โ€œcaliphateโ€ of the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria finally collapsed in March 2019, jihadists continue to sow terror.

The leader of the Republican majority in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, yet an ally of Mr. Trump, said Monday that the United States would โ€œabandonโ€ its allies in case of a premature withdrawal, which โ€œwould delight those who wish us harm.โ€

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Afghanistan could โ€œre-become a base for international terroristsโ€ in the event of the withdrawal of some 12,000 Alliance soldiers, the largest contingent being the Americans.

Violence continues

France said it would be a bad idea and the German government said it was โ€œparticularly concernedโ€ on Wednesday about the impact this withdrawal could have on the โ€œprogress of peace talksโ€ in Afghanistan.

Mr. Miller said he spoke to Mr. Stoltenberg and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. โ€œWe continue to stand by her side at a time when his government is working towards a negotiated peace settlementโ€ with the Taliban.

The ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, following an agreement between Washington and the insurgents that endorse the withdrawal of American forces, seem to be at an impasse today.

โ€œAl-Qaeda has been in Afghanistan for decades and we would be foolish to say he is going away tomorrow,โ€ a senior Pentagon official said shortly before Mr. Miller‘s announcement. โ€œThe solution is to negotiate a power-sharing or some sort of agreement whereby the Taliban and the Afghan people can live side by side in peace.โ€

Without giving details, Ghani spokesman Sediq Sediqqi announced on Twitter that Afghan President had met with Miller on Tuesday night about the โ€œpeace processโ€ and โ€œsignificant and ongoing military supportโ€ from the United States to Afghanistan.

For his part, Secretary General of the Atlantic Alliance Jens Stoltenberg wrote in a tweet: โ€œTalked about NATO’s mission with @ashrafghani. We support the peace process in Afghanistan (…) Even with the reduction by the Americans (of their military strength, note), NATO will continue to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against international terrorismโ€.

However, violence has only increased in recent months on Afghan territory.

An attack on Kabul University on 2 November killed at least 22 people, mostly students. It was claimed by ISIS but the government accused the Taliban of having beeninstigators.

And in Iraq, seven rockets targeted the US embassy in Baghdad as Christopher Miller intervened, breaking over a month of truce decreed by Iraqi factions loyal to Iran.